It came as a surprise when guitarist Kenny Burrell announced that the band he’s playing with this week at Catalina Bar & Grill is the same one featured on his sharp new Concord album “Blue Muse.” Band appeared unfamiliar with tunes, out of sync with each other and, in Burrell’s case, a bit tired.
“Blue Muse,” which Burrell says is his 96th album, is a becoming and tasteful work that steers clear of cliche and laurel-resting and is full of spry moments. Working off sheet music the entire night, ensemble exposed two tracks from the album, “3/4 of the House” and “Habiba,” as worthy challenges for the musicians and, as such, provided evening’s lone highlights. The former tune lifts off in an off-kilter blues meter; the latter kicks in and explodes Weather Report-style off a tautly executed hard-bop line that marked the only occasion in which saxophonist Herman Riley played with any gusto.
While sparks aren’t necessarily expected to fly at a Burrell show, set found drummer Sherman Ferguson attacking his instrument harder than any other musician on the bandstand. Pianist Tom Rainier and bassist Roberto Miranda were steady influences, the lone consistent bright spots. Burrell continues to display his love for Ellington tunes — but shouldn’t “Take the A-Train” be limited to outdoor festival perfs? — and his desire to educate the audience is always admirable. (He’s a jazz educator at UCLA.) Nothing, though, better informs an audience of the greatness of jazz than prepared interaction that exposes the genre’s unique language.